Education September 7, 2020
No Covid tests, shorter duration papers among key demands of disabled students appearing privately for TN Class 10 board exams
The Tamil Nadu government is all set to go ahead with board exams for students appearing as private candidates, a move that affects disabled children the most. Disability rights groups have slammed the move and are calling upon affected students to send individual representations of their specific needs to authorities.
Covid numbers across India show no signs of coming under control yet the Tamil Nadu government is determined to go ahead with its decision to conduct Class 10 board exams for private candidates. A move that mainly affects disabled children, who are also the most vulnerable to the virus.
Last week the Madras High Court issued directions in response to a petition challenging this move came as a let-down to thousands of disabled students. The petition, filed by the father of a student with cerebral palsy, sought to quash the government order calling for Class 10 exams. Instead the High Court asked for the state to issue specific guidelines for disabled children.
Court directions to state government
- Compile a list of candidates with disabilities appearing for the board exams.
- Ensure availability of scribes, and to provide the children and the scribe with Covid-19 tests two days prior to the start of the exams.
- In case where children cannot wear masks because of their disability, to find alternates to the same.
- Look into the issues facing the children, and to take steps to ensure their safety while writing the exams.
The order, say the children’s parents and disability rights groups, illustrates the total myopia and insensitivity towards the varying needs, challenges and vulnerabilities of children with disabilities.
Joseph Sahayarajan from Tiruchirapalli, whose son Emmanuel Jacob has mild autism and mental retardation (MR), is still undecided about whether he should let his son appear for the exam. “So many big personalities like politicians are dying due to Covid. How will my son be safe? He is very sensitive to infections. I spend nearly ₹ 5,000 every month as it is on his medical needs”.
There is also the larger injustice of cancelling board exams for other students while going ahead with them for private candidates.
Parents’ voice fears
“How can the state government announce that board exams will be cancelled for all students and then change their minds for special needs students alone?”, ask Malathi Balakrishnan, whose husband filed the petition in High Court. Her 24-year-old son Vignesh has cerebral palsy. “Vignesh salivates constantly. In such a situation how will the scribe assigned to him understand what he is saying and write It down? Maintaining social distancing is a concern too. They should assess private candidates based on internal assessments as well”.
The government and Courts seem to be testing the disability community’s patience insofar as recognising that reasonable accommodations are an equal opportunity measure to ensure a level playing field for candidates. The Covid-19 pandemic poses in some cases insurmountable barriers in this context. – Vaishnavi Jayakumar, Disability rights activist
With the exams scheduled to begin on 21 September, leading disability rights groups like Ekta Foundation, Disability Rights Alliance India and Equals, Centre for Promotion of Social Justice have come together to ensure that the disabled candidates’ needs, and challenges are voiced in their entirety. They have framed a form that asks for specific details of the needs and challenges of every child and are asking parents to send individual representations. You can see the form here.
“We are happy that the High Court has at least recognised the fact that special needs children have rights too”, says Malathi. “On the forms we will ask that the exams be of shorter duration and not the full three hours. Our demand is also that the questions be of objective type and for 50 marks only”. Another unanimous decision is to not subject the children to Covid tests prior to the exam. “We refuse to put our children through the Covid test and risk exposing them to the virus”, adds Malathi.
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